Clapboard Jungle (2021)

Director: Justin McConnell

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Guillermo del Toro, Sid Haig, Barbara Crampton, Mick Garris, Dick Miller, Tom Holland, George A. Romero

What is it like to make a film? The tone is set by the opening moments, where Guillermo del Toro gets to the very heart of it. By his own statement, making movies may be a beautiful process, but selling them is horrible. We see this occur before our very eyes, as Justin McConnell captures five years in his career as an independent filmmaker, trying to get a variety of films made. Over the course of the film, we see the struggles which come with financing, attracting the right talent, working with practical effects, and selling the finished product in the hope of turning a profit.

Growing up in the age of Sundance darling films, McConnell heard the success stories of directors like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, who bucked the system and were treated like rock stars. Stories like this gave birth to his dream of making films, and ever since then, the industry has changed before his very eyes, especially with streaming services like Netflix rising to prominence. This is especially notable, considering the rise in how much product there is to watch. While the issue of scouring through so much product is brought up, Lloyd Kaufman believes the real issue isn't the quantity of films, but how many good films get lost in the shuffle, and go unseen. When you're competing for the wandering attentions of people in their own homes, it's a genuine fear to have put so much time into a product, and then have it lost within an algorithm.

If anything, navigating the current film business is more difficult than ever before. With the rapid changes in technology, and a marketplace which has become overcrowded, we're left with an industry where anybody can make a film, but very few can actually make a living. As director Travis Stevens puts it, there's an assumption the business is like Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, where you receive a golden ticket and are set. This is far from the truth, as the filmmakers seem intent on dispelling the myth you can enter this world to become rich and famous.

We see Justin McConnell hard at work throughout the documentary, as he attempts to get a multitude of films off the ground. He isn't one for sitting still, so when issues arise with one film being made, his efforts are put into trying to make something else, in the hopes that will make it to screen. Through the footage, we see the struggles of getting a film made in motion, as McConnell discusses the issues he faces along the way. As he's only worked with small budgets, the director admits his work won't resemble Scorsese, and it's unfairly judged as a result.

Watching the footage of Justin's struggles, we become invested in his journey to realise his dream. As a result, the potential high-points are full of promise, while the low-points are utterly crushing. As we see how much these projects mean to Justin, there's a sense of investment, and we hope to see just one of them come to fruition. It's also a strong reminder of how long filmmakers put into their films, so however it turns out, this has been the work of a person's life for years. We're also strongly reminded that, no matter how much you may dislike a film, nobody will question a filmmaker's talent more than themselves.

All throughout, we see industry veterans discuss the issues they have faced, what they've learnt to help get a film made, and tips to help stand-out. For instance, as the filmmakers don't receive any substantial box office return from short films, the best case scenario for them is they can lead towards a paid gig. With the information which is relayed, it becomes clear film development is more of a marathon than a sprint. While intercut scenes of Justin exercising may feel unnecessary, it doesn't take away from what this film is; a love-letter to making movies, and an informative guide for any aspiring filmmakers, told by the people who've lived through the difficult process.

Clapboard Jungle is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from 12th April, and will exclusively premiere on Arrow Player from 19th April